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For more than 90 years, the Kiwanis Club of Richmond has combined substantial community service with good fellowship. Community service began shortly after the club was chartered in 1919 and has continued unabated through the years.
The year 1919 was noteworthy for many reasons: The Versailles Peace Conference unanimously adopted a resolution to create The League of Nations. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification, and the 18th Amendment ushering in Prohibition was ratified. And, the Kiwanis Club of Richmond was formed and became a part of the five-year-old Kiwanis International, then made up of 137 clubs with approximately 16,500 members. The Richmond club, which first met at the Jefferson Hotel on March 10, 1919, had 100 charter members. On March 16 it was organized, and its official charter was issued on June 9. Now, after more than 90 years, the Kiwanis Club of Richmond is one of the largest Kiwanis clubs in the world, with more than 200 members.
Present for the election and installation of the first officers and board members of the club was Allen S. Browne, the Detroit businessman who was instrumental in founding Kiwanis. Mr. Browne was a professional organizer and was paid $5 for each member recruited. Later Kiwanis International bought out his contract for $17,500 so the organization would be completely non-profit and dedicated to public service. The first president of the club was Charles T. Norman, who was president of a men’s clothing store then known as O. H. Berry & Company (later Berry-Burk and now long since closed).
Kiwanis International is organized into districts, many of which are divided into regions. All districts are divided into divisions. The international organization has a president and the other usual officers along with a Board of International Trustees, which governs the larger organization. Each district has a governor and also lieutenant governors, one from each of its divisions. The Kiwanis Club of Richmond is in the Capital District (Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia) and in Division 4 of the district. Division 4 along with Divisions 18 and 24 make up the Heart of Virginia Region, which elects a trustee to assist the Governor in managing the district. Many members of the Richmond club have served as Lieutenant Governor of Division 4. Primarily in the early years, we had several members to serve as District Governor. The only present member who has been Governor is Frank G. Louthan, Jr., who served in 1969-1970.
Club officers elected by the membership are President, President-Elect, Vice President, and Treasurer. The Club Secretary and an Assistant Treasurer are appointed by the Board of Directors. The President presides at weekly club meetings and at monthly Board meetings. The Board consists of nine members elected for two-year terms, with four elected one year and five the next to provide for continuity. The President-Elect and the Vice President assist the President and normally move up through the chairs to become President. Often the Secretary and the Treasurer are re-elected for several years, whereas the other officers serve annually. Because of the size of our club and its complexity, we also have a part-time staff member, the Administrative Coordinator, who assists the Secretary and the club in general in overall administrative operations. An office is provided for club operations through the courtesy of the real estate firm of Pollard and Bagby, Inc.
For many years membership in the club was limited to two men from any one profession. In the 1960s this rule was changed by creating sub-classifications, which provided wider latitude in soliciting new members. Ultimately, Kiwanis International abandoned the classification system entirely.
For more 50 years, membership in the Kiwanis Club of Richmond was all male and all white. Then in 1970 Allix James, President of Virginia Union University, became the first African-American member of the Club. In July 1987, after much discussion at the Kiwanis International Convention, gender was eliminated as a qualification for membership. Shortly thereafter, the late Nina Abady became the first woman member of our club. In the succeeding 20 years, women have become an integral part of our organization, and so far three women have served as President.
For much of its history, the club met at two former downtown hotels: Murphy’s Hotel and then the John Marshall Hotel. When the John Marshall closed in the late 1980s, our club (along with the Richmond Rotary Club) moved its meetings to the Tea Room of the former Miller & Rhoads department store. After only a couple of years, however, Miller & Rhoads closed, and the club then moved through several meeting sites in the downtown area. Finally in 1994 a move was made to the Virginia Historical Society, where a catering service provides our lunches. The meeting facilities are outstanding, and the location has proven to be very convenient, since the majority of our members no longer work in the downtown area.
Our meetings begin at noon each Monday with a buffet lunch. About 12:30 the program begins with the singing of a patriotic song, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and an invocation. Because of the size and prominence of our club, we are able to attract excellent speakers, primarily local business, political, and community leaders but often those with national standing. Each talk ends with what is often a lively question and answer session, and the meeting adjourns by 1:15 p.m.
The mottoto of Kiwanis International is “Serving the Children of the World,” and the Kiwanis Club of Richmond exemplifies this goal in most of its activities. For many years, we have provided both financial and volunteer assistance to William Byrd Community House, Children’s Hospital, and Virginia Voice for the Print Handicapped. A more recent project is a partnership with the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs to convert a day camp in Goochland County to an overnight camp for city children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have such an experience. Over several years our club raised about $370,000 in funds for capital projects and now spends about $60,000 each year on camp operations, in addition to providing hands-on assistance by members.
Part of the funds for camp operations are raised from a golf tournament conducted each year in September. The remainder comes from income of the Richmond Kiwanis Foundation. We are fortunate to have a foundation that has grown in value over the years and now provides annual income to be used on our service activities.
Kiwanis International sponsors organizations for children and youth from elementary age through college, and our club sponsors local groups at all of these levels. Probably best known are Key Clubs for high school students. Also, we provide a tutoring program at a middle school close to our meeting site, and we have developed an ongoing relationship with the Richmond City Schools in providing volunteer support.
The Kiwanis Club of Richmond has constantly applied its financial and human resources to the needs of our community through a depression, recessions, and global conflicts. Much has been done quietly for the satisfaction of being of service and not for the sake of publicity. Although public recognition is always welcome, it has not been a motivating factor. In looking back over more than 90 years of fellowship and service to community, we are setting the stage for those who will guide the club into a new century of service.